What did you do in college to prepare for your career?
I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Goshen College in Indiana. Throughout college, I had a broad range of internship experiences from small companies and start-ups to IBM, Microsoft, and NASA. These internships gave me invaluable hands-on experience in the industry and taught me how to learn a new organization and get up to speed on a new team. I received hands-on experience in everything from software testing and development to performance tuning and benchmarking. I was given an amazing window into how each of the organizations work and an opportunity to see what I liked and disliked at each organization. In all of my internships I was a contributing member of the team with substantive projects that allowed me to improve my technical skills and contribute real value to the organization. In one internship I estimated that my hardware setup would retail for somewhere north of half a million dollars.
Does your disability affect your career?
My disability is dyslexia, which means that having spelling checker tools are incredibly important when I write documentation and code. Despite the challenges it presents, I think my experience with dyslexia has made me good at thinking about problems and components in terms of the systems they are a part of rather than just individual pieces, which is a major benefit in my job.
What can I do while I’m in high school if I want to pursue a career in computing?
The single most important thing students can do to prepare for a career in computers is to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. We live in a world that is changing rapidly. Especially in technology fields, the cool tool is always changing and the programs taught in the classroom are often not quite the same as what industry is using—this makes it an incredibly exciting field to work in, but means that while mastery of specific tools and technologies is good, it is more important to know how to think critically about problems and possible solutions.
Students should also develop the ability to effectively communicate and learn. In technology, the ability to communicate is incredibly important—listening, speaking, and writing well are paramount. These skills allow one to understand what the client or end user needs and then communicate back to them about how to move forward in order to help them meet their goals. Determining the most effective way to reach these goals is where the ability to learn is helpful. In this field you need to always be learning, as the best and most effective tools are constantly changing.
What does it take to be a computing professional?
I think of myself as a problem solver and became interested in computing as an avenue for solving problems. I enjoy understanding problems and finding solutions to them. A lot of my job is doing exactly that—figuring out what it is that the client needs and the most effective way to meet that need. Computers happen to be my platform of choice for solving problems, which is what I am most exited and passionate about.
I think it is valuable to think about computers as a tool, a means of reaching an end. Nearly everywhere one looks there are problems that are being solved—or that could be solved—through carefully designed computer systems. The problems my work has addressed have ranged from developing cutting edge medical tools for doctors to helping people access important services easily.
Why should I study computing?
An ever-increasing number of industries are turning to computer systems to solve their ever-changing needs. Nearly every electronic device used by people on a daily basis is a computer—from cell phones to hearing aids, pace makers to cars—they all have at least one computer in them. Due to this, the outlook for computer jobs is very good. Despite all the worries about outsourcing of computer jobs, there is still plenty of need for smart people to solve interesting problems.
Computers are everywhere in our lives and all indications are that they will only become more ubiquitous in the future. Most of us can't go a waking hour—or even a sleeping hour—without interacting with, or relying on, a computer or computer controlled system. This means that computer professionals can work in essentially any industry collaborating to solve many of the most interesting and pressing problems in the world today. This is a dynamic field that is never stagnant, a field where something new is always around the corner. It is a fun, rewarding, and challenging industry with great people and always something new to learn.